National Signing Day: Malzahn picks up pieces pretty well: Recruiting class fared better than many expected after Chizik collapse

National Signing Day: Malzahn picks up pieces pretty well: Recruiting class fared better than many expected after Chizik collapse

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National Signing Day: Malzahn picks up pieces pretty well: Recruiting class fared better than many expected after Chizik collapse

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It might have been the most awkward moment in the history of college football recruiting TV analysis.

There was former Auburn coach Gene Chizik sitting on the set of ESPNU’s recruiting show as analysts around him crushed the Tigers’ 2012 football team — the one that Chizik guided to an 0-8 record — during their discussions of this year’s Auburn recruiting class under new head coach Gus Malzahn.

It had the makings of a cringe-worthy TV disaster.

Surprisingly, though, everyone came away looking pretty good.

Chizik handled the not-too-direct criticism exceptionally well and proved, along with former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, to be a very competent analyst.

In the meantime, on The Plains, Chizik’s successor was proving to be a pretty talented recruiter in his own right.

It would have been very easy for Malzahn and his new staff, who have been on the job for less than two months now, to mail it in on this class.

It’s the first class, after all. Everyone gets a pass on those.

Even Nick Saban’s first class at Alabama sort of stunk up the joint, by his standards. According to scout.com rankings, that 2007 class for Saban at UA rated 22nd, didn’t include a single five-star player and had just five four-star players.

Malzahn’s 2013 class at Auburn features five-star defensive lineman Montravius Adams and eight four-star players. The fellas over at rivals.com had the Tigers rated as the 10th best class in the country and with two five-star players (they included defensive lineman Carl Lawson) and nine four-stars.

But forget the stars and the ridiculous spectacles of Signing Day. What’s important about this day for college programs is filling needs with talented players.

And that’s what makes this Auburn class especially interesting.

Watching the 2012 AU team play, it was easy to spot deficiencies. When you go 0-8 in league play and get absolutely steamrolled in several of those losses, holes aren’t hard to find.

But the most glaring were at quarterback, defensive line and linebacker.

The Tigers filled the quarterback need with G.W. Carver QB Jeremy Johnson, who many expect to challenge for the starting spot in his freshman season. He’s a tall, talented athlete who can make every throw required in Malzahn’s hurry-up offense.

AU also appears to have patched up a defensive front that was simply atrocious at times last year, signing Adams, Lawson, defensive end Elijah Daniel and defensive tackle Ben Bradley. Both Daniel and Bradley are very highly rated players, as well.

The only real miss in this class was at linebacker. And it was a big miss — so big that the president talked about it.

Not the president of the university. The president of the country. As in Barack Obama.

President Obama mentioned the decision by top-rated linebacker Reuben Foster to complete the rare triple-commitment flip from Alabama to Auburn and back to ‘Bama during a phone call with Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, a former Alabama tight end.

“You guys just got another draft pick down there, a guy who already tattooed Auburn on his arm and then decided to go to Alabama instead,” the president said to Newsome.

It was a tough, public blow to Auburn and this class.

But that one flip shouldn’t overshadow in any way a very solid recruiting haul for a group of coaches fresh on the job and new to many of these recruits. This was a really nice job, and under normal circumstances, fans would feel great about Malzahn and the new staff.

But then, Chizik screwed that up. He and his staff recruited lights out for four years, too. They battled the top programs in the country year after year for top recruits and won many of the battles. And then flopped like fish when it came time to coach them up and develop those talented recruits. That’s why Chizik was spending his Signing Day on a TV set.

Malzahn was on Chizik’s staff for three of the four seasons. He knows better than anyone where the problems were and why things fell apart. Hopefully, he and his staff can correct the problems of the past and turn first-class recruiting classes into first-class football teams.

If he doesn’t, he’ll be sitting next to Chizik in four years.

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